Pentecost 3 Blog
Pastor Clay Schmit
All Present and Accounted For
In last week’s blog, I spoke about the Holy Trinity, that complex theory about how our One God comes to us in three expressions (or persons). Here is another mystery of faith to ponder: what does it mean to say that God is present with us? This question seems even more complicated to me. Here is why.
God appears to be located, not so much in a distant heaven, as here among us and all around us. We like to say that God is present in the entire universe. Luther had a homey way of putting it: “I believe that Jesus is present in the bread and wine because I believe the Jesus is present in my cabbage soup.” I once had a very science savvy confirmation student who speculated that God is that entity that physicists theorize is at the core of every atom. It is smaller than an electron or a proton. It is like the glue that holds each atom together. This young man said that he thought that was the essence of God. And, that would explain how God is everywhere because God would be present in every atom in the entire universe. How interesting.
Now, if God is present in all things throughout the universe—and if there is nowhere we can go to flee from God’s presence (as it says in Psalm 139), then what does it mean to say that Jesus is present in the bread and the wine? Or, why single out the bread and wine of communion if Jesus is present in the cabbage soup and the stars of the galaxies? Perhaps it means that there is a different and special level or quality of godly presence when the sacrament is celebrated. Different in what way, you will ask. I don’t really know. I am just trying to get my mind around the idea that Jesus is with us in the bread and wine. When you try to grasp it with our small human intellects, it eventually all sounds pretty silly. Such as: God is present in all things, but in Holy Communion, you get more of God, like when you add more sugar to your coffee or more yeast to your bread. Hmmm. That does sound ridiculous when you say it.
And, then, there is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that the Spirit would also be with us through all circumstances in life: to call us, to lead us, to guide us, to keep us from temptation. Is that the same presence as God in the universe? Is it the same presence as Jesus in Holy Communion? Or, is it yet another special kind and level of godly presence?
And, as if it weren’t complicated enough already, what does it mean to say that Jesus is present with us in the reading and the preaching of the Word? Luther, along with all subsequent Lutheran preachers—and along with preachers of many denominations—likes to say that Jesus is present with us when the scriptures are read and when the preacher proclaims the gospel in the sermon.The great German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once said that when the preacher speaks, it is as if Jesus himself steps down out of the pulpit and walks among the people in the pews. There he is again—Jesus present with us. And, in yet another form. Or so it may appear.
Of course, it would be much simpler and easier to understand if we just acknowledged that God is with us in every place and at every time. That alone is hard enough to comprehend, without adding various levels or qualities of godly presence in the sacraments, in the hearing of the Word, and in the moving of the Spirit.
Well, I promised it would be a mind bender. Clearly I am not asserting or teaching anything here. I’m just musing about these things which we say we believe. In the end, it doesn’t matter how God makes all of this happen. In fact, it doesn’t even matter that we understand it. It only matters that God delivers on God’s promise to be with us. That part is clear. The rest is just playful speculation and best and total conundrum at worst. It probably would have been better if I hadn’t brought it up.
But, what fun would that be?